By Park DeVane
The second Seminole Indian War was declared ended in 1842. It was decided in Washington that a reservation for the Indians would be set aside in Southwest Florida for their use. The act stipulated that no white settlers would be allowed to settle in this area. Neither would traders be allowed among them on the reserve.
The same year (1842) the Armed Occupation Act was passed in Washington that allowed veterans of the Indian wars to make application for a homestead of 160 acres in Florida. Many of the men who had fought the Indians all over Florida during the years 1835-42 recognized the possibilities of settling on good land that lay within this area.
The boundary of this reserve was very roughly described as follows: Beginning at the mouth of Peas Creek (Peace River) and up the river to Big Charlie Creek - up this creek to the south prong. Up this South Prong and east to the eastern shore to Istokpoga Creek to Kissimmee River. Then south on Kissimmee River to its mouth on Lake Okeechobee. South through Lake Okeechobee and the saw grass to Shark River on the southern coast. Then along the western coast a few miles inland to the point of beginning.
The Indians were not allowed to have any ocean coast line within the reserve, the reason being that they traded with the Spanish fishermen in past years and they were the source of their supply of guns and powder during the Indian Wars.
Another stipulation of this treaty was that the government would allow licensed traders to erect trading stores just outside the reserves’ northern and western boundary. These stores would stock the supplies needed by the Indians and would be traded for animal skins, melons, corn, dried meat, etc.
The settlers began to move further south and paid little attention to the boundary lines and some began squatting within the reserve. Billy Bowlegs was resigned to accept the reserve and would, in all likelihood, live up to the agreement if left alone and not molested by white settlers. He tried very hard to keep peace among the members of the tribes that bitterly opposed accepting the reserve.
The trading houses were built and stoked by a trading firm from Tampa Bay named Kennedy and Darling, licensed by the government to trade with the Indians.
It appeared that everything was working out well for awhile but then tragedy struck on July 17, 1849. Some hot-headed Indians killed Captain Payne and Lott (Dempsey) Whidden at the store on Paynes Creek (Bowling Green). The settlers in South Florida immediately left their homes and gathered at the nearest fort for protection. They petitioned Washington to send military forces into the area.
General David Twiggs was sent to Fort Brooke, Tampa, to take command of the forces and it was decided by the military authorities to build a series of forts across South Florida. These forts were to be no more than 15 miles apart. Gen. Twiggs built the first of these forts on the upper Manatee River at the head of navigation. (This is near present day Ellenton). This fort was named Fort Hammer. Then, from 10-15 miles apart going east, the following forts were erected:
Fort Chokonikla (Creek language translation - burned store or house)
Fort Clinch (at Frostproof)
Fort Arbuckle (at Bombing Range)
Fort Capron (north of Ft. Pierce)
These forts were garrisoned by U.S. regular troops and a constant patrol was made between them day and night.
After a few months, Billy Bowlegs made contact with Capt. John Casey, the Indian agent at Sarasota and he told the captain to tell Gen. Twiggs that in a short time he would bring in the guilty Indians who killed Payne and Whidden. As he promised, he brought in to Fort Brooke, four Indians who took part in the killing and he also brought along the severed hands of another Indian who refused to be captured by him. He expressed his deep regrets for the trouble and hoped they could live in peace again.
After this, the forts were gradually abandoned. Some were active only a few months. The Indians moved deeper into the Everglades and would have remained in peace except for the actions of more unscrupulous white men in 1855, which is another story.
The story of Chokonikla is reprinted from DeVane’s Early Florida History.
(This article is reprinted from Bulletin Number Thirty Three.
Sebring Historical Society, July 1981. Pages 957-958.)